QPIRG Concordia to expand student resources

Organization turns focus to the future following annual election, fee levy increases

Following the recent election of new board members and an eight-cent fee levy increase, Concordia’s chapter of the Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) is focusing on increasing research stipends and expanding their student resources.

The grassroots organization, which has historically focused on funding research and community-based projects aligned with their progressive political views, elected 12 members to their board of directors on Sept. 27 during their annual general meeting.

Since the organization works with both the Concordia and Montreal communities, it has two separate boards: one consisting of students and the other made up of community members. Any Concordia student with a valid student ID and all community QPIRG members (non-students who have donated at least $10 to the group or who volunteer 10 hours per year) were able to vote in the election.

Eamon Toohey, who was elected to the community board of directors on Sept. 27, said the board will spend the year developing and funding “radical, grassroots social justice initiatives” and will be prioritizing marginalized voices.

“I’m really excited to work with a whole new crop of board members to support the folks working for a brighter tomorrow in the city and beyond,” Toohey said. “Especially folks at the margins fighting for Indigenous sovereignty and migrant justice. Those two fights are brutally suppressed and forgotten, but absolutely vital.”

In addition to new board members, the organization recently received an increase to their annual student fee levy. According to the group’s 2016-17 financial report, between January 2007 and November 2016, the group received 31 cents per credit per undergraduate student, with the exception of students who chose to opt out in the first weeks of each semester.

Through a referendum vote during the fall 2016 Concordia Student Union (CSU) by-elections, the QPIRG was granted an eight-cent fee levy increase. Under this new model, undergraduate students pay 39 cents per credit per semester, or $11.70 annually for a 90-credit degree. The graduate student fee levy of 50 cents per credit was unchanged.

“It was up to Concordia undergraduates to decide at the polls,” Toohey said of the referendum. “When voting closed, our fee levy was raised, allowing us to support social and environmental initiatives all over the city.”

While the group’s primary source of income is fee levy funding, it’s impossible for the QPIRG to predict how much funding that will be, as all students have the option to opt-out each semester. According to financial records from October 2016 to August 2017, the group’s total revenue for the 2016-17 fiscal year was $238,586 with approximately $220,000 coming from student fee levy funds.

The QPIRG insisted the increased funding will be put towards community-based programs and research projects. According to Hesser Garcia, a newly-elected community board member, the fee levy increase has already allowed the group to fund a $3,000 summer stipend, which they granted to Captive Minds.

According to the QPIRG’s 2016-17 annual report, Captive Minds is a Little Burgundy-based mentorship project that connects black, low-income youth with an adult mentor in the prison system. Garcia said this stipend is “the first in many to come,” now that the group has increased funding.

“We were also able to provide better support for our alternative agenda, School Schmool, and our alternative library,” Garcia said. School Schmool is a free student planner that features articles and resources, including food banks and low-cost mental health services in the Montreal area. The alternative library, in QPIRG Concordia’s office at 1500 de Maisonneuve Blvd., offers books, magazines and audio-visual media focused on environmental and social justice issues.

In total, the QPIRG invested $20,000 in community and campus projects in 2016-2017. Several board members said they are hopeful the increased fee levy will allow them to expand funding for these programs even further in the coming year.

Photo by Kirubel Mehari


Support Social Justice, Resist Racism and Sexism, Vote Yes to QPIRG Concordia

For the past two weeks, I’ve had the honor to be the Chairperson of the “Vote Yes to QPIRG Concordia” referendum committee, and it’s been a privilege to meet with so many Concordia students during the campaign, and to realize how many people on campus care so deeply about a better world and building a more caring community.

I would like to take this opportunity, before campaigning ends and voting begins, to share some key messages of our campaign, and to urge students to turn out in large numbers and Vote Yes next week.

QPIRG Concordia, has been an important progressive presence on campus for four decades. QPIRG’s core mission is anti-oppression, and actively organizing to support mobilizing and popular education efforts. In an era with a troubling rise in racism, sexism and homophobia, enabled by far-right politicians like Donald Trump, unapologetic social justice organizations like QPIRG are needed more than ever.

Importantly, QPIRG Concordia provides a welcome and nurturing place for students, and community members, to get acquainted with issues, in a non-judgmental setting. It’s a place for growth, mentorship, and support. QPIRG Concordia has an amazing array of projects, initiatives and publications — School Schmool alternative agenda, Convergence undergraduate research journal, Study In Action undergraduate research conference, the Alternative Library, DisOrientation, more than 30 Working Groups — that in diverse ways support and sustain students who want to be engaged members of their community. All of these benefits are available for students for free, as a result of a fee levy.

It’s been almost a decade since QPIRG has had a fee levy increase, a reasonable time to again ask students for a modest 8 cents per credit increase to allow QPIRG Concordia to be an effective part of the progressive social and environmental justice community at Concordia and Montreal.

Next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, November 15-17, have your student card on hand, visit one of the polling booths on either campus, and be sure to VOTE YES to QPIRG Concordia, your campus-community link for progressive social change.

-Sima Youssef


Red Square Block Party showcases alternative student associations

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Students gathered at Concordia University’s downtown campus on Thursday for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s Red Square Block Party as part of the week long DISorientation.

The party focused little on the student strike movement with the exception of a table for Concordia’s Mob Squad. The Mob Squad was there to inform students on the Parti Québécois’ recent decision to repeal the tuition fee increase, as well as planned future marches and initiatives. Most of the event showcased student associations that Concordia students may not know about.

The purpose of the event was to reclaim public space. The gathering focused on the lack of student space at the university’s downtown campus after the development of a long sought-after student centre from the Concordia Student Union was put on hold last year.

“Throughout the years [conventional orientation events have] become more and more axed on, the single-minded focus on partying and drinking rather than a true introduction into what post-secondary education is,” said Christina Xydous, QPIRG’s administrative co-ordinator. “Groups that you’re seeing here have come together to offer an alternative view and perhaps a broader approach to the school experience for Concordia students.”

Booths lined the stretch of sidewalk on De Maisonneuve Blvd. between Guy St. and Mackay St. offering information about a variety of student groups. Organizations such as Le Frigo Vert, Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore, the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, Concordia Animal Rights Association, and Cinema Politica spent the afternoon handing out pamphlets in an an effort to engage passing students.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know other community groups at Concordia and to share information and also to talk to a lot of people that walk by and are interested,” said Emma Pietrangelo, a volunteer with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

The People’s Potato also took part in the “Red Square Block Party” serving a free lunch.

“I think that these things should happen more often because they definitely do show what’s going on at Concordia and show what Concordia is all about,” said Pietrangelo. “It’s not just big tall buildings. We’re a lot about organizations and people participating.”


A different kind of orientation for ConU students

The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia launched DISorientation 2012 this week and through a series of different events, organizers aim to reach out and inform new and returning students.

It is QPIRG’s mandate to raise awareness about social justice issues, and the concentrated effort of DISorientation 2012 is to expose students and the community to a different side of campus life by organizing free workshops, tours, a panel discussion and a block party.

“It’s a period of time when students, as well as community members are looking to get involved, for a nurturing environment where they can be curious, where they can learn more,” said Jaggi Singh, QPIRG’s working groups and programming co-ordinator. “It’s important because there’s more to being part of this campus life than what goes on in the classroom.”

A “Radical Walking Tour of Concordia” is set for Wednesday to highlight past social conflicts at Concordia, such as the 1969 Sir George Williams Computer Centre riot, a student occupation fuelled by allegations of academic racism, or the student unrest that ensued following the scheduled visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2002.

“We will talk about the different contributions that have been made to ensure an accessible campus, to ensure a campus that is engaged and politicized – about a lot of Concordia’s history that is often hidden,” explained Singh.

Following the walking tour, QPIRG along with different student associations will host “The Quebec Student General Strike … WTF?!” a discussion where students will be able to learn more about the recent student strike and to discuss the future of the movement.

Singh said that there is a need for space to talk about the student strike and future mobilization, in a way that is accessible to individuals that didn’t experience it.

Thursday’s “Red Square Block Party” will host a variety of groups, and the People’s Potato will serve food. Singh explained that the event is a celebration, a gathering and a reclamation of space all at once.

“Concordia’s at the heart of gentrification in downtown Montreal and either the administration is going to accelerate the gentrification and turn what could be accessible gathering spaces into spaces where you have to spend money,” he said. “Or we can try to assert that these spaces should be where people, regardless of their background, people with modest means and income, can gather and hang out.”

For more DISorientation events, check out


McGill ignores results of student vote

Student groups are responding after McGill’s administration announced that it will not be recognizing the results of the Students’ Society of McGill’s (SSMU) fall 2011 referendum because the wording of the questions were “unclear.”

The news incited reactions from the independent student groups who posed the questions: McGill’s campus radio station 90.3 FM CKUT and research group QPIRG-McGill.

Both QPIRG and CKUT posed similarly-worded questions asking students to confirm whether or not they a) support the continued funding of the independent groups and b) agree that the fee opt-out period should be switched from online to in-person.

In both cases the election results revealed that over 60 per cent of students voted “yes” in the referendum, which saw over 5,000 students coming out to vote between Nov. 4 to Nov. 10.

However, after a preliminary meeting with the administration in December, QPIRG and CKUT were notified via email that McGill would not be recognizing the results.

Kira Page, a member of QPIRG’s board of directors, says that by not validating the results, the university is refusing to acknowledge the mandate of McGill’s student body.

“We had over 700 students sign to say that they understood the question and they believe it should go to referendum,” said Page. “It went through all the democratic processes available to us.”

The questions under administrative scrutiny were originally approved by Elections McGill, SSMU’s electoral body. SSMU president Maggie Knight sent a public letter to McGill’s deputy provost (student life and learning) Morton Mendelson asking for an explanation.

“The clarity of the question is primarily a debate between CKUT and QPIRG and McGill,” said Knight in an interview, explaining that the SSMU’s role is to represent its constituents, the undergrad students who voted in the referendum.

“When we see that both questions passed with majority vote, this appears to be the will of the student body so it’s our job to stand up for that,” Knight said.

However, some are siding with the university. According to the McGill Daily, a public hearing regarding a case filed by two students with SSMU’s judicial board asking for the referendum results to be invalidated due to alleged electoral infractions is set for Jan. 30.

McGill requires independent student groups like QPIRG and CKUT to prove that students still back them via “existence questions” in referendums every five years before being able to renew their memorandum of agreement.

By invaliding the referendum results, CKUT board of directors student representative Myriam Zaidi says the station is left scrambling. They need to renew their agreement with the university to secure funding, and the lease for their space is up in May.

“The McGill administration has a lot of power over us and we feel cornered,” said Zaidi.

Both QPIRG and CKUT have until Feb. 5 to submit new, differently-worded questions to SSMU council in time for the spring referendum.

Opt-out a hot issue at McGill

In voting overwhelmingly in favour of CKUT and QPIRG’s referendum questions, students were also agreeing to change the way that the fees that fund these student groups can be refunded.

Students have the option of being refunded for these fees during an opt-out period, which lasts for two weeks at the beginning of the fall semester following the deadline to add or drop courses.

In 2007, McGill moved the process online, allowing students to opt-out of paying these fees with a click of a button. CKUT and QPIRG oppose the change, saying that online opt-outs do not properly inform students about the groups they’re funding. They also argue that the online opt-out hinders their ability to plan their finances and makes it easier for pro opt-out campaigns to influence students to take back their money. They are pushing for the opt-out process to be moved from online to in-person.


We don’t need no thought control

Montreal’s universities are often the centres of debate about the social, environmental and political issues which come closest to the hearts of students. But navigating the complicated network of activist organizations operating in and around our universities can be a daunting task, especially if you’re new to the city or school.
School Schmool is an annual “activist day planner and radical guide” released by the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, which aims to help students organize the vast sea of groups and issues surrounding them and strives to connect them with the ones they relate most to.
School Schmool’s co-ordinators Kerri Flannigan (Concordia University) and Kristin Li (McGill University) firmly believe that the planner and radical guide is a great resource for informing students on what’s happening on campus and in their community.
“I remember being a new student at Concordia University, very eager to get involved but not knowing where to look or how to start,” recalled Flannigan. “It can be intimidating for new students to get involved when they are faced with so many options. School Schmool attempts to make issues and the groups doing work around these issues more accessible and approachable.”
The planner/guide is divided into four segments. The “Resources” section tips off students about where to find useful things like health care resources, accessible spaces and a map of Montreal neighbourhoods.
“Issues” includes articles on subjects like access to education, ecological justice and independent media.  “Groups” connects students to the issues they read about in the previous section by listing and breaking down 100 Montreal-based organizations. Finally, a day planner is included for students to organize their busy lives.
“School Schmool was not an agenda when it first launched in 1994,” explained Flannigan. “It was a resource of social and environmental issues relating to McGill and Montreal. It was reborn out of QPIRG McGill in 2006 as an agenda and resource-based guide […] that people could carry with them daily.”
This year’s issue has grown significantly since last year. “The agenda is bigger both in size and page length,” said Flannigan. “It features over 100 community and student groups and projects, double the number of last year’s agenda.”
Despite its increase in size and content, the agenda remains available on a by-donation basis, leaving little excuse for students not to pick one up.
“It’s a solid resource to the city, with guides to practical information like places that offer low-cost mental health service and where to go for cheap eats around campus,” added Li. “It has thoughtfully written articles about issues that affect all of us. It’s also well-designed, beautifully illustrated, and free of advertising.”
A School Schmool website is also in the works, which will eventually include publicized events, pickup locations for the agenda as well as uploads of past and present issues.
The agenda is also a good tool for newcomers and students not previously aware of academic issues.
”School Schmool encourages students to become more active members of their campuses,” said Li. “Our articles and group profiles highlight the fact that new students are coming into their university at a particular historical junction, in the midst of ongoing debates, issues, campaigns, and projects. We’re hoping School Schmool will help provide the context for different aspects of the university that new students might be discovering for the first time.” 

Copies of School Schmool will be available as of Sept. 6 at QPIRG’s Concordia (1500 de Maisonneuve Blvd., suite 204) and McGill (3647 University St.) offices, as well as at QPIRG events and around Montreal.

Exit mobile version